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Visit Tom Hanks' Oscar Acceptance Speech That Spielberg Called 'Incredible'

Visit Tom Hanks' Oscar Acceptance Speech That Spielberg Called 'Incredible'

Reed Saxon/AP

Tom Hanks gives a powerful acceptance speech at the 66th Annual Academy Awards on March 21, 1994. Hanks won for his role in “Philadelphia.”



CNN

Thirty years ago, Tom Hanks gave a performance that resonated throughout Hollywood. And it wasn't in a movie.

On March 21, 1994 – at the 66th Academy Awards – Hanks accepted the Best Actor award for his role in “Philadelphia”, a drama about a gay lawyer who is slowly dying of AIDS. His acceptance speech quickly went down in history as one of the most memorable and moving speeches in Oscar history.

As we prepare for the 96th Academy Awards on Sunday, here's a look back at Hanks' groundbreaking acceptance speech, 30 years later.

It begins like any other speech, with Hanks thanking his wife, Rita Wilson, as well as the film's cast and crew — including co-stars Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington. Then the conversation turns personal. Hanks points to his high school drama teacher, Rowley Farnsworth, and his classmate, John Gilkerson — both gay men whom Hanks said he “had the good fortune to associate with, and to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.”

“And therein lies my dilemma here tonight,” Hanks said continuous. “I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are so crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each of the red ribbons we wear here tonight. They have finally rested in the warm embrace of the gracious Creator of us all.

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“A healing embrace cools their mother-in-laws, clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common-sense truth revealed to us all by the benevolent Creator that the wise men wrote down on paper “O tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago,” in reference to the Declaration of Independence, which states that All men are created equal. “God bless you all. May God have mercy on us all. May God bless America.”

Hanks was talking about the lives lost to AIDS. By 1994, it was had become The leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44. The fellow student he mentioned, Gilkerson, was an actor and puppeteer, and died of AIDS in 1989.

Although the disease had been circulating for more than a decade by the time the film was released, it was still highly stigmatized at the time, and “Philadelphia” was one of the first major Hollywood films to directly address HIV/AIDS.

Steven Spielberg was in the audience that night, having won best director and best picture for “Schindler's List.”

“The speech was amazing,” he said decades later. meeting with The New York Times, “In a sense, it communicated more about what Philadelphia was saying — and reached more people — than the film itself ever would.”

Before Hanks won the award, he contacted his high school drama teacher, Farnsworth, asking permission to mention him in the speech.

Farnsworth, who was 69 at the time, said he received a phone call at his apartment three days before the Oscars. People magazine 1994“I don't know if you'll remember me, but I'm an old student of yours,” the caller said. “I've got a ticket to the Oscars, and if you win, I'd like to use your name in connection with Philadelphia content.”

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That caller, of course, was Hanks. And Farnsworth's answer? “I would be thrilled,” he said.

Aside from its memorable Oscar speech, “Philadelphia” was criticized for casting a straight actor as a gay man. If the film were made today, that wouldn't be the case, “and that's true,” Hanks said.

“One of the reasons people weren't afraid of this movie is because I was playing a gay man,” Hanks said. In a 2022 interview. “We're past that now, and I don't think people will accept the falsity of a straight man playing a gay man.”